According to some recent news, it seems that pretty much everybody is on its way to Mars. You doubt? Have a look at the list below. In addition to the probes (and mission) that are already there (this is a good list), these are the countries that currently have the Red Planet in their plans.
Europe (Russia included): this one is probably the first mission that will get home results. ESA has recently launched its ExoMars programme, which will search for life on the Red Planet. “On 14 March 2016, the Roscosmos State Corporation and the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the jointly-developed ExoMars 2016 interplanetary mission, comprising the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and the Schiaparelli lander, on a Proton rocket from Baikonur, thus marking the first phase in the European-Russian ExoMars cooperation programme. (…)The ExoMars 2016 spacecraft are due to arrive at Mars in October 2016.” (Press Release, ESA). The second phase of the mission will start in 2020, and it will include a rover dedicated to exobiology and geochemistry research.
China: A Chinese rover is due to head to Mars in the 2020s, while a sampling mission is planned for the 2030s. “What we want to achieve is to orbit Mars, land, and deploy the rover in one mission, which will be quite difficult to achieve. […] Only by completing this Mars probe mission can China say it has truly embarked on the exploration of deep space.” (Xu Dazhe, China’s National Space Administration, 22 April 2016). It seems the Indian success (Mangalyaan, the India’s Mars Orbiter Mission -MOM -spacecraft, which is orbiting Mars since September 2014), has motivated China in this sense.
Japan: Instead of the planet, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) has decided instead to target one of Mars’s moonlets, Phobos or Deimos, for a landing in the 2020s. This won’t be the first Mars-related mission by Japan. In 1998, Japan launched a Mars explorer, Nozomi, with the mission to study the planet and its atmosphere. However, things didn’t go as planned. The trip took about four years longer than planned, and JAXA eventually lost control of the explorer after it closed in on Mars.
United States: NASA is the agency that so far has done the most to explore the Martian surface – and has still probes on the ground. Coming next is the InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) lander in 2018, which will continue the ongoing work. However, “InSight is more than a Mars mission – it is a terrestrial planet explorer that will address one of the most fundamental issues of planetary and solar system science – understanding the processes that shaped the rocky planets of the inner solar system (including Earth) more than four billion years ago.” For more, see the website.
And let’s not forget Elon Musk’s SpaceX, whose Dragon spacecraft is due to start a Mars in 2018, in preparation for a private manned mission in 2025. More to come before the end of the year, that’s for sure.